Rodney Small, influencing young lives with pan
Local Vibes
November 7, 2017
Rodney Small, influencing young lives with pan

There are persons who just stand out in musical circles for the heart they bring to their music. Rodney Small is in that rare group of talent, who seem to lose themselves in their performance and take their audiences along to an almost surreal plain.

A man in harmony with his first tenor pan, Rodney Small regards himself simply as “a very humble young man from the beautiful community of Sion Hill.”

His pan does the talking, and it’s been doing so from age seven, when curiosity drew him to the sound of pan at the Girls’ High School compound, where members of the school’s steel orchestra were at practice – as he waited on his sister to complete her typing lessons.

It was the veteran pan man, Francis “Pes” Llewellyn, who observed his regular presence and inquired about his interest in playing the pan; the unhesitating response was in the affirmative.

…And, so began a journey which, thus far, is two decades along. While Small was drawn by other interests as he made his way through the primary school system, the music of the pan always tugged at his heartstrings, drawing him back to his first love, with encouragement from Llewellyn, and Johnny ‘JP’ Pompey.

Some persons, explains Small, were optimistic that he would lead the charge to resuscitate a steel orchestra at the Bishop’s College, Kingstown, while a student there. While “that didn’t really materialize,” he was called upon to represent the school at various events and the expertise of the young pannist was becoming better known.

However, “at Sion Euphonium is where I could say the bulk of my career really kick-started,” where he “was given the opportunity to be the junior band arranger, winning five Panorama titles” and earning the distinction of being “the only young arranger who was able to take 84 young pannists to the competition and winning five competitions on a straight.”

Small credits the steel orchestra, of which he was a member for 11 years, with helping as well in honing his skills as a performer.

A graduate of the Jamaica School of Performing Arts, Small, who is employed as assistant research officer in the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, is putting his experience, training and acumen to work for further self-advancement and to provide an avenue to expose other young talent.

He is into promotion, does private tutoring, plays at a number of gigs, both at home and overseas, and does part-time teaching in theatre arts. His annual ‘Steel Expressions’ show is now a staple on the Christmas calendar for hundreds of music lovers.

Projecting a decade into the future, Small is determined to continue being a positive influence to young people and sees in his mind’s eye, the development of an academy where pan will have prominence.

“That is in the making; it’s in the thinking; it’s in the process of creation, because I see it as important; because one day, the hands would stop working, but the mind would not stop working and I want to see the art form continue.

“I want to see more Rodney Smalls …there were persons before me who really paved the way for myself also; so, 10 years down the road, I can guarantee you there’s going to be a Rodney Small Academy.”

Small’s quality as a pan man was acclaimed when the public voted him ‘Best Steel Pan Player’ in the Best of SVG 2017 Awards.

“It was a great feeling,” he tells Searchlight. “For me it was more of a motivation… sometimes to show people that you appreciate them is one of the biggest thing, and I felt really appreciated.”